It’s kind of interesting that 2019 has two movies focusing on female characters thieving riches away from unsuspecting men…both with “hustle” in their name. One is a comedy remake that wasted the talents of its leading ladies on a lazy, barely passable story. This is not that film. Unlike “The Hustle”, “Hustlers” has quickly become one of the biggest underdog stories in American cinema in 2019 earning rave reviews and even some Oscar buzz during its opening weekend. The female led crime drama packs an impressive cast led by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu and tells the real-life story of a group of former strippers who took their talents to the next level to con men out of their finances. I quite honestly wasn’t prepared to give this movie a chance until I saw the reviews and buzz surrounding it. In fact it’s a rare film that pulled me away from my original choice for the weekend, “The Goldfinch”, as I decided to see if “Hustlers” was really worth all the noise. That said, this is my review of “Hustlers”.
“Hustlers” is based on the 2015 New York magazine article by Jennifer Pressler that chronicled the exploits of a group of former strippers who drugged men and stole from their personal and business accounts. The film focuses on Dorothy (Constance Wu) who befriends a veteran stripper named Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) who teaches Dorothy the ropes of managing clients at the club. When the crash of 2008 threatens their livelihood the two join forces with fellow strippers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) to target rich men, drugging them and maxing out their credit cards at the strip club for a cut of the profits. The drugs leave the men with little memory of their “fun” night on the town and unwilling to go to the cops for fear of embarassment. As the crew become more successful they begin to take on riskier clients as their obsession with profits and payback against the elite they blame for the financial crisis threatens to turn their lives upside down. The story is told through flashbacks at Dorothy recalls their exploits to a reporter named Elizabeth (Julia Stiles).
“Hustlers” is one of those movies that looks unassuming on the surface but once you take the time to view it you come to realize what a hidden gem it really is. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, “Hustlers” is a smartly handled female-driven film that effectively blends its agenda and themes into an engaging, fast paced and entertaining story. “Hustlers” takes selective liberties when telling its real-life story and in doing so tells a tale of four women who come together to punish the elite males of society that they feel have indirectly earned their punishment by contributing to the financial crisis of 2008. However, they’re never presented as outright heroes. In fact “Hustlers” does a fine job depicting how human these women are and justifying the desperate measures they take. But these are no Robin Hood types. By the end of it both the characters and the audience come to realize they’ve turned into the greedy, destructive monsters they sought to punish, leaving a trail of innocent victims in their wake.
Of course, with a movie like this that depends heavily on sex appeal you need a strong cast to rise above that sexuality. “Hustlers” has just that. Jennifer Lopez provides possibly the best cinematic performance of her career as the experienced, unrelenting and savvy Ramona who takes Dorothy, brought to life by an equally committed and impressive Constance Wu, under her wing. Together these two create an amazingly believable bond on screen. Even more impressive is how easily you can see the different layers of their relationship as each scene sees these ladies shift between business partners, best friends, mentor and teacher, and even a sisterly bond depending on the situation. A supporting cast composed of Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, and an underrated Julia Stiles help sell the concept to the fullest giving us characters who feel genuine. Each one of them is flawed but they’re all very relatable as well. In many cases the beautiful women cast for the picture successfully show how looks can be deceiving in more ways than one, a themes that could be used to describe this picture on many levels. Likely due to it’s female director and writer, “Hustlers” allows each actress involved to show off their looks and celebrate their beauty but also tastefully presents them as real human beings rather than simply sex symbols.
One thing a lot of people have commented on with this film is the cinematography and visual appeal of the film. While anyone looking to just enjoy watching beautiful women dance will certainly get their monies worth, if you look beyond the sex appeal the cinematography, set pieces, costume designs and shooting styles all create a complete package that makes “Hustlers” a fun and engrossing experience even without the hip swaying stage dances and bra-less babes in the dressing room. The style and visuals compliment the atmosphere perfectly, even as the action moves away from the club and into the lavish apartments and mansions. The use of lighting, slow motion, and carefully thought out camera angles give “Hustlers” an unexpected artistic quality and make the product as a whole even more visually stunning than the lovely ladies that bring it to life. What makes it even more fun is that the film starts off with lots of color, mostly focusing on the purple and neon, before focusing on more white, black and gold tones when the ladies’ lavish lifestyles take over and finally becomes a bit darker as the story progresses. It all plays into not only how we see the characters but also helps show the progression and, at times, regressions of the characters as they become more obsessed with their money and success. It’s just an all around great experience from start to finish supported by a fun script, perfect pacing, and, as already stated, some amazing performances.
“Hustlers” deserves to be the surprise hit of 2019. It’s a smart, fun, well crafted, carefully layered female-driven crime drama that throws in some comedic flair, colorful characters and a memorable visual style that keeps you glued to the screen from start to finish. The script and story bring out the best in everyone involved and in a year where female-centric films have been hit or miss in terms of drawing crowds to the theater it’s nice to see a smaller project like “Hustlers” succeed and get the attention it deserves. It’s a fun, gorgeous, and often thought-provoking film that touches effectively on the concepts of greed and the divisions of sexes without ever delving too deep into pretentious territory for its own good. It’s the entire package, a smart, sexy, fun and insightful real-life story perfectly adapted to the big screen.